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Selling the University a Library

Hubert Howe Bancroft. Analysis and Valuation of The Bancroft Library. 1886-87.

Henry L. Oak was probably the principal author of this prospectus for the sale of The Bancroft Library, valued by Bancroft at $250,000. It was directed principally to permanent institutions in California, a state which, "has a right to be proud of such a Library, and would be disgraced by its loss."

"Petition of the Representatives of the Banking Houses of California that the State Purchase The Bancroft Historical Library." Manuscript, [1886-1887].

Hubert Howe Bancroft spearheaded a petition drive in support of California’s acquisition of his library. Prominent men in Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Utah Territory signed statements attesting to the collection’s value and urged its preservation in the West. Leading librarians signed in support of $250,000 being "a fair and proper purchase." The scientific community in Washington, D.C., led by John Wesley Powell, rallied in support. Within California, separate petitions were circulated to "Capitalists, Real Estate Men," "Eminent Attorneys," "Insurance Companies, Managers, and Capitalists," "Wholesale and Retail Merchants and Commercial Men," "Archbishop Riordan, Bishop Kip and other Eminent Divines," "Statesmen, Judges of the U.S. and State Courts and leading officials," "Officers, Regents & Professors of the State University," "Eminent Educators and Literary Men," and, shown here, prominent financiers.

Senate Bill No. 103, "An act to enlarge the State Library, by purchasing and adding thereto a library of history of the Pacific Coast, and to make an appropriation for said purchase." 14 January 1887.

"Selling the State a Library," San Francisco News Letter, 2 February 1889.

This bill, introduced by California State Senator John M. Briceland, would have purchased Bancroft's library for $250,000. Despite intensive lobbying, it did not pass in 1897 nor again in 1889.

United States Congress, 52nd Congress, 1st Session. House Resolution 141. 16 June 1892.

In 1892, with both the thirty-nine volumes of his Works and the seven volumes of the biographical series Chronicles of the Builders completed, a joint resolution was introduced to appoint a "committee to appraise and report to Congress the value of the library of Hubert Howe Bancroft" and whether it should be purchased for the Library of Congress.

Hubert Howe Bancroft. Holograph draft of agreement with the Astor-Lenox-Tilden foundations regarding the handling of his library, should it be purchased for the New York Public Library. Manuscript, ca. 1896.

Among the provisions proposed by Bancroft were that all books relating to America be placed with The Bancroft Library in fitting quarters designed for that purpose and be called, perpetuity, the "Bancroft Institute of American History." He also called for a yearly sum of $6,000 for further purchases and to fund an annual lecture series. Cost of transporting the library to New York was to be borne by the foundations.

"The Bancroft Library," San Francisco Chronicle, 2 February 1896.

The New York library committee rejected the purchase of The Bancroft Library, saying, "Our reason is that we do not think it advisable to take the books at the price asked [i.e. $300,000]." Other major cities, such as Chicago and St. Louis, also pondered the acquisition, but attention focused on California.

Joseph C. Rowell. Photograph, 25 July 1874.

Rowell was appointed librarian of the University of California in 1875, the year following his graduation. He served in that capacity for forty-four years, during which time the collection grew from 13,000 volumes to 400,000. The acquisition of The Bancroft Collection, earnestly pursued by him in 1898, and supported again in 1905, was but one of the many contributions he made to the establishment of the Berkeley library as a major research center.

Joseph C. Rowell.  Photograph, 25 July 1874.

Catalogue of the Loan Book Exhibition, Held at the University of California, Berkeley, May 26th to 31st, 1884. Sacramento: State Office, James J. Ayers, Supt., 1884.

Presaging the ultimate joining of the University Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections Department with The Bancroft Library, University Librarian Joseph C. Rowell mounted a major exhibition of rare books, manuscripts, and fine findings in the new Bacon Library for com- mencement week, 1884. All of the nineteen books Hubert Howe Bancroft loaned for the exhibition are now in The Bancroft Library, including four Zamorano imprints, several 16th-century Mexican books, Patrick Breen's diary from the ill-fated Donner party, and even a 14th-century manuscript of Gregory the Great's Moralia.

Charles O. Richards. Letter to Joseph C. Rowell. San Francisco, 30 June 1898. With Rowell’s response, 9 July 1898, noted.

The question of the University of California’s purchase of The Bancroft Library was first raised with Rowell by Bancroft’s son-in-law, to whom Rowell responded that he "would be glad to cooperate in an earnest endeavor to keep it here."

James D. Phelan.  Letter to Joseph C. Rowell. San Francisco, 1 December 1898.

James D. Phelan. Letter to Joseph C. Rowell. San Francisco, 1 December 1898.

The mayor of San Francisco enthusiastically endorsed the purchase of The Bancroft Library, terming it a "Mecca for students" and concluding: "The University is the place for it and I trust it shall be its good fortune to possess it." Rowell received similar supportive letters from other civic leaders, prominent professors, and historians.

Thomas Savage. Letter to Joseph C. Rowell. San Francisco, 1 August 1898.

Before coming to San Francisco, and Bancroft’s employ, in 1873, Savage had spent his career in the consulate at Havana and thereafter at various places in Central America. "All my chief assis- tants were good Spanish scholars, but all in cases of doubt were glad to refer to him as an expert." Bancroft wrote in Literary Industries. Rowell too sought his advice--about the value of the library, to which Savage replied in this letter: "Were I a millionaire I would not hesitate to pay $300,000 for it. Nearly all who have seen the Library have unanimously expressed the opinion that it should not be allowed to leave the State or to be scattered."

Henry L. Oak. Letter to Joseph C. Rowell. Seigier Springs, Calif., 15 July 1898.

Among those queried regarding the value of The Bancroft Library was Henry L. Oak, who had served as its librarian for 18 years. Oak confirmed his previous evaluation of $250,000, made twelve years earlier, and wrote--in words underlined by Rowell--that "an institution with large views of the future & with the money at its disposal would never regret the purchase at that figure." Oak was, however, willing to deduct 40% for possible excessive enthusiasm on the part of one "who had spent the best part of his life in forming & using the library." Oak had left Bancroft’s employ in 1887, but he remained strongly attached to the library, which he wanted "permanently located in some Cal. institution, secure from destruction & scattering, & available for purposes of research."

Ainsworth R. Spofford. Letter to Joseph C. Rowell. Washington, D.C., 30 July 1898.

The highest asking price recorded for The Bancroft Library was its offer to the Library of Congress for $500,000. The Chief Assistant Librarian reported that, although the collection no doubt had value, no real deliberation ensued since the valuation was considered "prohibitory."

Joseph C. Rowell. Notes regarding valuation of Library. Manuscript, ca. 1898.

In 1898, interest in acquiring The Bancroft Library for the University of California revived. University Librarian Rowell canvassed the nation regarding the value of the library, summarized here in his notes on valuations solicited from individuals and offers previously made to other libraries.

Joseph C. Rowell. Letter to Charles O. Richards. Berkeley, 19 September 1898. "Unofficial" printed copy.

Although Rowell notes at the top that this printed letter was never circulated, the original did have its effect on the proposed sale of the Bancroft Library to the University at that time. After personally visiting the library as well as studying the two volume catalog, Rowell set its value at $116,000, less than half the asking price. At the end he remarked ruefully that "if by an untoward fate the collection should be taken away from California and dissipated to the four ends of the earth. I am not sure that a century or so later some person will not be damning that fool of a librarian" who valued the collection so low. Happily, another appraiser in 1905 would see the value as at least $300,000 and enable the University to strike a bargain.

William A. McKowen. Resolution of the Board of Regents, University of California. Manuscript, 17 February 1899.

McKowen, Acting Secretary of the Board of Regents, reports the adoption, on February 14, of a resolution recognizing the value of The Bancroft Library and stating their trust "that some means can be devised to secure the permanent location of the Library at the University."

Catalogue of Valuable Books: Duplicates from the Library of Mr. Hubert Howe Bancroft, Comprising Collections Relating to California, Mexico and Other States of Central America; Pacific Coast, etc., etc. To Be Sold at Auction Wednesday and Thursday, February 7th and 8th 1900, by Bangs & Co. . . . New York. [New York: Taylor, 1900].

Although not yet able to sell the library as a whole, Bancroft was willing to part with duplicates, numbering 694 lots and including many rare and uncommon titles. In evaluating the library in 1905, Thwaites estimated that at least $15,000 worth of duplicates still remained in the library.

Hubert Howe Bancroft.  Photograph, ca. 1900.

Hubert Howe Bancroft. Photograph, ca. 1900.

Hubert Howe Bancroft. Evolution of a Library. New York: The Bancroft Company of New York, ca. 1902.

This promotional pamphlet compares The Bancroft Library to other great libraries of the world and lists some of the library benefactors in the United States, while inviting "some person so inclined to found a much needed Institute of American History, either in connection with some library or university, or independently"--with The Bancroft Library as its basis.

Hubert Howe Bancroft. Codicile to will. New Haven, Connecticut. 11 May 1903.

Among Bancroft’s concerns when he drew up his will in 1903 was the disposition of his library which he had gathered "at a cost to my estate of a million or two of dollars." In this attachment he tells his family that "I do not wish them ever to give away my library of Pacific or West American historical material, but to hold the same until it is appreciated and purchased by some one at a fair price."

Benjamin Ide Wheeler.  Photograph, n.d.

Benjamin Ide Wheeler. Photograph, n.d.

Professor Henry Morse Stephens aroused the enthusiastic interest of President Benjamin Ide Wheeler as well as of Rudolph J. Taussig and members of the Board of Regents, in an effort to have the University of California buy Bancroft’s collection. When President Wheeler told Bancroft that the University could not possibly raise more than $150,000 for the purchase, he agreed to donate the other $100,000 of his asking price.

Option to Purchase, H. H. Bancroft to the Regents of the University of California, dated September 15, 1905. Typed transcript provided by Office of the Comptroller, University of California.

Among the provisions Bancroft included was that the Regents establish a "Bancroft Professorship of Pacific Coast History"--insuring the continued scholarly use of his collection. In an extension to the option signed on November 9, and in the final purchase agreement, this provision was waived.

Reuben Gold Thwaites. The Bancroft Library. A Report Submitted to the President and Regents of the University of California upon Condition and Marketable Value of The Bancroft Library. Berkeley, 14 October 1905.

In 1905, support among the faculty and administration of the University began to rally in favor of the acquisition of Bancroft's library. On September 15, 1905, the Regents agreed to a sixty-day option on the purchase of the Bancroft Library for $250,000, $100,000 of which would be a gift from Hubert Howe Bancroft. The next month historian Reuben G. Thwaites, then Superintendent of the Wisconsin Historical Library, home of the famed Draper Collection, was engaged to survey the library and estimate its value. He returned with the reassuring evaluation that the 50,000 items (excluding dictations, catalogs and indices) contained in the library were without a doubt worth at least $315,000. The deal was sealed, and the University agreed to pay Bancroft $50,000 at once, $50,000 in a year, and another $50,000 in two years.

Agreement, H. H. Bancroft with the Regents of the University of California, dated November 25, 1905. Typed transcript provided by Office of the Comptroller, University of California.

In the purchase agreement, Bancroft accepts payment in three installments of $50,000 over three years. The major provision remaining from the original option to purchase is that "It is understood by the parties hereto that said library shall be kept substantially intact in some secure and fireproof building at the seat of the University of California and shall be known as the ‘Bancroft Library.’" This provision became particularly important in later years when proposals were made to split off the Mexican and Central American materials into a separate library.

Hubert Howe Bancroft. Letter to Griffing Bancroft. San Francisco, 25 November 1905.

Bancroft writes his son about the successful sale of the library, the money from which he intends to use to pay off the mortgage on St. Dunstan’s, an apartment building owned in San Francisco. Bancroft’s efforts at this time to liquidate debt and settle a steady income on his children were wholly dashed by the destruction of his properties in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Henry Morse Stephens. Photograph, n.d.

At the turn of the century, Henry Morse Stephens, Chair of the History Department at the University of California, was an immensely popular teacher, lecturing to the largest classes on the campus and in constant demand as a speaker at off-campus functions. It was Stephens who was most influential in persuading President Benjamin Ide Wheeler to purchase The Bancroft Library for the University. It was he also who brought Dr. Herbert Eugene Bolton to campus to head the graduate school of research in the utilization of the library's resources.

Henry Morse Stephens.  Photograph, n.d.

Hubert Howe Bancroft.  Letter to Henry Morse Stephens. San Francisco, 26 November 1905.

Hubert Howe Bancroft. Letter to Henry Morse Stephens. San Francisco, 26 November 1905.

Bancroft sends heartfelt thanks to Stephens for his role in effecting the sale of his library to the University: "As long as we live we shall remember your kindness in the matter--not merely as to the sale of the library so much as to the manner it came about & was done.

"Bancroft's Priceless Library Goes to California University," N. Y. Press, 10 December 1905.

Bancroft left New York by steamer on February 24, 1852, arriving in San Francisco, via the Isthmus of Panama, on April 1. Though not quite twenty, Bancroft had been entrusted with an important consignment of books and stationery to sell for his brother-in-law, George H. Derby. While awaiting the arrival of the shipment, sent by clipper by way of Cape Horn, Bancroft and his good friend and fellow clerk, George L. Kenny, worked at a quartz mine at Long Bar and in a general merchandise store in Rich Bar.

LINK: Exhibit Homepage LINK: Chronology LINK: The Early Years LINK: Building The Bancroft LINK: The Directors
Exhibit Homepage
The Early Years
Building The Bancroft
The Directors

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